I earned my Technician Class Amateur Radio license in March 1995 and upgraded to a General Class license in March 2007. For years, I operated on HF, VHF, and UHF from my Mk3 Jetta and on VHF from my bicycle. I do not have a station in my home. I’m all-mobile all the time. My VHF/UHF radios have a very respectable range with the use of repeaters and even the Internet. Repeaters receive signals from distant or weak stations, amplify them, then retransmit their signal for greater range. Relatively new technologies, such as D-STAR, enable an amateur radio operator’s signal to be carried to distant locations via the Internet. I’ve made nearly effortless contact with stations in Europe with just five watts and a hotspot. My HF “multi-multi” rig provides the ability to communicate worldwide through “sky waves” enabled by the atmosphere. But I probably won’t mount that radio in my GTI because I don’t want the huge antenna that goes with it. HAHA!
I wasn’t sure if I’d opt to install my ham radio equipment in my GTI. I love its clean lines. However, the completion of the 12V power distribution network in the trunk as well as my status as a tech-addict compelled me to move my existing equipment from my Mk6 Jetta to my GTI. My primary radio is an Icom ID-5100A D-STAR radio, which features dual receivers. The display is HUGE and very difficult to place in a tightly organized interior. I originally mounted mine to the center dash opening (see QSL card above). I switched to a higher position in front of an air vent a couple years later. After that, I moved to a side vent (photo below). The visibility is great and the GPS locks on quickly.
I use a Comet SS-460SB antenna, which is ~18 inches tall and yields decent results. Although I stick with small antennas for aesthetic reasons, I use an NMO mount so I can mount larger antennas when desired. I didn’t want to drill any new holes in the roof or use a lip mount on my hatchback. My goal was to preserve as much of the GTI’s good looks as I could. I chose a Breedlove NMO mount and installed it in the existing “sharkfin” hole. Click here to see how I did it. It’s not as slick as the factory sharkfin, but it’s not too obnoxious, either. I’ve lost my CarNet and Sirius capabilities, but I never used the services, anyway. The Breedlove mount allows me to easily mount a variety of antennas.
D-STAR is a digital voice and data protocol with access to over 700 D-STAR repeaters in the U.S. alone, with thousands worldwide. Many are linked together via the Internet. My commute takes me out of the range of local D-STAR repeaters. So I assembled a “DV Mega” that’s based on a Raspberry Pi 3. Using my smartphone as an Internet gateway, the DV Mega allows me to use a D-STAR radio to use the D-STAR network from anywhere with 3G/4G access. I spoke with someone in Israel the first day I used my DV Mega.
Why the draw to ham radio with the proliferation of the Internet and cellular services? Well, the Internet and cellular are both services requiring arranged accounts with a fee. “Big deal,” right? They also need infrastructure such as commercial power and cable/phone services, all of which can be lost during a natural disaster or “a major mess-up downtown.” With ham radio, I own the equipment and the communications medium (our atmosphere) is still free until our government finds a way to tax that, too. Hams are always the first to establish communications when disaster strikes. Examples include just about every hurricane and earthquake worldwide in the past 100 years, even recent events in developed cities. I believe most stations are capable of operating without external infrastructure… at least mine are since they’re mobile.